Legalization Bills Prefiled in Louisiana

The third time’s the charm for one Louisiana Rep. who has prefiled cannabis bills that would set the foundation for adult-use cannabis legalization.

Louisiana Rep. Candace Newell recently prefiled a package of bills that would legalize adult-use cannabis. According to the Louisiana Radio Network, Newell has introduced three bills: HB-17, HB-24, and HB-12. Each of the bills targets a specific area of regulation. “I’ve separated the three bills. It’s legalization, regulation, and taxation. So each bill does its own thing,” Newell explained.

HB-17, which Newell has filed twice in the past, would allow the Department of Agriculture to manage and issue 10 cultivation and processing licenses and 40 permits for retail dispensaries. “We want to have a handle on who’s growing it, so we know where it’s coming from…and you’re just not willy-nilly growing it in your back yard,” Newell told Louisiana Radio Network. Applicants would be required to undergo criminal background checks.

HB-24 would decriminalize cannabis possession and distribution. “Just as alcohol. You have a license to sell alcohol. If you don’t have a license you can’t sell it. The same will be with recreational marijuana…if I can get this bill passed.” Finally there’s HB-12, which has not yet been prefiled.

According to the Louisiana Illuminator, Newell wants to start setting the foundation for legalization now in preparation for the future. “More and more states are legalizing it, and it seems the federal government is leaning towards legalizing it,” Newell said. “I want to ensure that when it is legal, that it’s Louisiana citizens that have the opportunity to take part in this economic opportunity—that it’s people right here in Louisiana that’s making the money.”

While the effort to legalize adult-use cannabis begins, the state’s medical cannabis program has taken much time to expand. The state’s medical cannabis program has been around since June 2015 when former Gov. Bobby Jindal signed two bills into law—one that set up a basic foundation for a medical cannabis program, and another that reduced penalties for cannabis possession. However, it has taken years of additional bills to be passed in order to expand the program further, frequently due to opposition from legislators.

It wasn’t until May 2016 that former Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill that officially made Louisiana the 25th state to legalize medical cannabis though. Patients waited years until August 2019 for medical cannabis sales to actually begin, after the final round of testing was conducted on cannabis grown by Louisiana State University. 

In June 2020, Edwards signed a bill into law that expanded the state’s qualifying conditions. While previously, medical cannabis was only legal to those who suffered from severe medical conditions (such as Parkinson’s disease, cancer, or glaucoma), the expansion allows doctors to certify a patient with any debilitating condition.

It wasn’t until June 2021 that the state finally allowed patients to consume smokable forms of cannabis. By August 2021, the state ended jail time for possession of small amounts of cannabis. Anyone in possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis would receive a misdemeanor crime, with a fine of $100.

Later in January 2022, cannabis flower sales finally began, but only products cultivated by state affiliated university programs would be allowed for distribution. At the time, only nine dispensaries were licensed for legal medical cannabis sales.

In July 2022, the University of Louisiana Monroe’s School of Pharmacy was given approval to conduct cannabis research and testing, which includes the construction of a 20-acre facility.

August 2022 brought the launch date for a number of other cannabis bills, which included improving affordability for cannabis dispensaries, preventing law enforcement from using cannabis scent as cause to search a person’s home, and making consuming cannabis and driving illegal. It also addressed positive drug test discrimination, and allowed patients from other states to access medical cannabis in Louisiana.

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